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 SRU Students Visit Historic Hurricane Site to Make Class Work Up Close and Personal 




Contact: K.E. Schwab  -- 724-738-2199;  e-mail:


     SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. – Everyone agrees classroom learning is great, but hands on, on-site learning is even better, and at Slippery Rock University students in a variety of geography, geology and the environment courses often get such opportunities, including one recent trip for 30 students and 10 faculty to South County, R.I., to see up close and personal the damage and destruction wreaked by a hurricane 68 years ago.

      The department group saw firsthand the devastation caused by the Sept. 21, 1938, event that still ranks as the fifth deadliest hurricane to ever strike hit U.S. East Coast. The storm killed 125.

      The visit was part of the department’s annual field trip designed to investigate the U.S. coast and help students learn from the past, says Dr. Carolyn Prorok, veteran professor of geography, geology and the environment. “This was a hurricane that tore apart the lives of costal residents and still has ramifications today. It is important for students to see firsthand how the environment – and the economy and history – can be changed very quickly,” she adds.

      Dr. Julie Snow, assistant professor in the department who organized the trip, explains, “One of the ways our department prepares students for their future in environmental careers and mapping is through fieldwork with faculty. We have been to New York City, the Assateague Island National Seashore, Sudbury-Ontario, Puerto Rico and Costa Rica in field trips that give students real-life experiences and opportunities to put their learning into practice.”  Other department- and university-supported field trips in the last year have taken groups to Yellowstone National Park, the Badlands of South Dakota, New Mexico and the Bahamas.

      “An important part of our most recent journey allowed time on Napatree Point, a sand spit jutting off the western shores of Rhode Island. There had been 44 homes on the point; 15 lives were washed into the ocean by the killer hurricane. Only four survivors were found after the storm, all of them hunkered in an abandoned military fort. Every home, car and reminder of life was washed from the beach – and some 68 years later, it remains the same.

      Tom Quinn, an environmental geoscience student from Slippery Rock, wrote in his trip journal, “Looking around Napatree, I couldn’t fathom what had happened. There is no trace of what was there in 1938, only the old fort. Structures were erased from the landscape -- Mother Nature wanted a new drawing board.” On returning, he noted, “Having an experience in the field with extremely knowledgeable people makes the learning process kick into high gear.”

      One day of the trip allowed the SRU group to focus on geology. Students visited the unique rock called “Narragansett Pier Granite,” which, at one time had been miles below the Earth’s surface, and connected to Africa, says Dr. Tamra Schiappa, assistant professor of geology. Students were told about the continental collisions and the resulting breakup millions of years ago. They used their time to find evidence of the breakup within the rocks.

      A day at Beavertail State Park investigating animals in the rocky intertidal zone, a thin line between life and death that creates sharp contrasts in the kinds of species living in different parts of the rocks, allowed students to see how rapid the zonation occurs as they spent hours examining the area  –  and tackling the waves.

            Plans are under way for a trip to Upstate New York to find fossils of extinct marine life next September.

PN, PGN, WPN, PR --- Art available and attached.

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